By Sangar Khaleel and Jane Arraf
ERBIL, Iraq A rocket attack on Erbil airport in northern Iraq on Monday killed a civilian contractor from the US-led military coalition and injured six others, including a member American services, according to a spokesperson for the coalition.
Several other rockets landed in residential areas of the city, the capital of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, including one near the Chinese consulate.
The attack, rare in the normally peaceful Kurdish city, raised tensions already exacerbated by threats from Iranian-backed militias against US targets in Iraq. It is not known who carried it out, but previous attacks have been attributed to militias funded and led by Iran.
Iran has made it clear that it intends to continue its retaliation against the US drone strike in Baghdad in January 2020 that killed a senior Iranian general, Qassim Suleimani, and a senior Iraqi security official. A few days after the strike, the Iranian government launched missile attacks against US forces on the Ain al-Assad air base in Iraq’s Anbar province, injuring more than 100 soldiers.
On Monday, minutes after the rocket attack on Erbil, the Kurdish regional government called on residents to stay indoors and the international airport canceled departing and arriving flights.
The US military has reduced its troops in Iraq to less than 2,500 and has withdrawn from several bases over the past two years. He says Iraq no longer needs the help it had in the past to fight the Islamic State, although US officials have acknowledged that the militia attacks also factored into the decision to relocate. troops to more easily defended bases.
The military side of Erbils airport is one of the three remaining bases with a significant number of American soldiers. It was not clear whether the rocket defense systems installed at the base had been activated by Monday’s attack.
The coalition did not disclose the nationality of the killed civilian contractor. The Kurdish health ministry said three civilians were injured in Monday’s attack.
Kurdish counterterrorism forces said they found the vehicle from which the rockets were launched, but did not say where it was found.
A little-known group known as the Awliya al Dam (Blood Guardian) brigades claimed responsibility for the attack, claiming they launched the rockets in revenge for the deaths of the martyred leaders. The group claimed responsibility for two bombings last August against convoys of US contractors carrying military equipment.
In Washington, a White House spokesman said President Biden had been briefed on Erbil’s attack, but offered no further comment or details.
Masrour Barzani, president of Iraq’s Kurdish region, said he spoke with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken to cooperate in finding those responsible for the attack. Mr. Blinken later condemned the attack.
We are outraged by today’s rocket attack in the Iraqi Kurdistan region, he said in a statement on Monday evening, adding that in speaking with the Kurdish president, he had committed to supporting the United States in all efforts to investigate and hold those responsible to account.
Michael Knights, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the size and scope of the rocket attack on Erbil was unusually large, and that it was most likely intended to maim or kill American contractors or service members, or their Kurdish Allies.
This is a test of the new Biden administration to see what they can do, Mr Knights said in a telephone interview.
Iraqi leaders traveled to Tehran to try to persuade Iran to call off the attacks, saying the conflict between Washington and Tehran had left Iraq dangerously in the middle. The Embassy in Baghdad continues to operate with the Ambassador and a small number of key staff.
Sangar Khaleel reported from Erbil, Iraq, and Jane Arraf from Amman, Jordan. Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.
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